Last week, I ran into a former coworker who I had not seen in several years. She had lived in Cottage Grove for many years, raising two kids who went through the Monona Grove school system. After the kids graduated from high school about 10 years ago or so, she and her husband moved to Madison.
We talked for about 10-15 minutes, catching up on friends, family, etc. Since she is a former Cottage Grover, I mentioned the nice new school that had been built, which led to other subjects – including the referendum a few years ago, the recent attempt to close Maywood, etc.
It was then that my former coworker – a pretty even tempered, fair woman – let out a “F**k Monona.” She continued: “Monona screwed Cottage Grove for years. I have no sympathy.”
On more than one occasion, I’ve witnessed hostility between Monona and Cottage Grove residents, but this one came as a bit of a surprise. There was pure venom in the words.
We spoke a little more on the subject and the root of her feelings came out. She talked about how Monona had always treated Cottage Grove like a poor cousin. How Monona pretty much did whatever it wanted, irregardless of the needs of Cottage Grove. How Monona acted like Cottage Grove should be happy with whatever scraps they got from Monona. There was a real and lasting bitterness in this woman’s voice. Even after being removed from the district for more than decade, the anger was still there – very real and very raw.
I bring up this story to remind everyone that there is a long history between these two communities, and not all of it is good (as my encounter above describes).
This anger still exists today. I’ve seen it many long time residents – and they’ve handed it down to newcomers. And I see it increasingly in Monona residents as well.
I’ve seen current board members make very inappropriate remarks about one community or the other. I’ve seen people at the board meetings – both in CG and Monona – ripping on the ‘other’ community – casting the ‘Monona vs Cottage Grove’ stone over and over.
I’ve also heard many comments from Cottage Grove residents in the vein of ‘You reap what you sow.’
And to a degree, Monona is reaping what we have sown. The last gasp for Monona was getting the High School built here instead of a location somewhere between Monona and Cottage Grove. Or perhaps it was voting down the first referendum. But now, Cottage Grove is larger and can grow, while Monona will – at best – maintain its population. It’s a losing hand for Monona. Why should a Cottage Grove resident care about Monona’s ability to attract families? Or Monona property tax values? Or how long our kids have to ride a bus out to GD? Why should CG care about Monona when most of the population tried to stop Glacial Drumlin from being built (successfully, the first time, unsuccessfully the second time). Most Cottage Grovers probably don’t care about Monona – and in fact, for some, there’s probably a hint of satisfaction at our woes. Payback, as they say, is a bitch.
Some Monona residents did form an alliance of sorts with regard to getting Glacial Drumlin School built. That angered many Monona citizen not because of the fact we needed a school in CG, but the high costs – and ultimately, the shifting of Monona kids to Cottage Grove.
All this leads to anger for many Monona residents. Anger not unlike the same kind displayed by my old coworker. Anger that the bigger partner makes the decisions – often times without regard to your concerns. It’s an anger that will be hard to dispel – and things will only get worse if Maywood is closed.
The sad part about this history is that many Monona residents don’t understand it. They have moved here recently, and don’t know and/or care about old grudges. They don’t ‘get’ why some Cottage Grovers don’t care one bit about Monona. It makes them very frustrated – and only fuels this same kind of anger – anger that the bigger partner is bullying your community and denying you what you feel is the best thing for you.
What does all this mean? Not really sure, but here’s some thoughts:
Monona residents need to recognize that they need to make decisions to help Monona. No one else is going to do that for us.
Getting angry and bitter toward CG (like my old coworker) isn’t going to do anything but make us angry and bitter. It helps no one. And displaying that attitude toward CG is only going to reinforce their own biases.
Come up with solutions. Come up with alternatives. When the first referendum for building GD was shot down, many Monona folks simply sat back and clapped about saving ourselves from a $40 million monstrosity. Instead we got $30 million in debt and lost three classes to Cottage Grove. Why? Because we let those willing to bargain away our local schools set up the referendum. Instead of sitting around being proud of ourselves after defeating the first referendum, we should have gotten like-minded Monona residents and politicians together and found out what truly would have been an acceptable compromise to get GD built. Instead we let others define the agenda – allowing for a very flawed referendum, which despite all the big flaws, the board accepted and put on the ballot – hook, line and sinker. We are now stuck with it – and the flaws continue to cause divisions.
Finally, we need to look at the anger in the community and remember it’s not just Monona vs Cottage Grove – but Monona resident vs Monona resident. We’ve let this happen by not coming up with truly acceptable alternatives. You might criticize the POP group for supporting a bad referendum, but hey, they got it on the ballot. No one else offered an alternative – and the school was desperately needed.
Two things I want to note: the Monona vs Monona internal battles are too big of a thing to dive into here – it deserves its own post.
Second, I want to stress that this isn’t supposed to be a slam on all these supposed old school angry Cottage Grovers looking to settle some decades old grudges. It’s not that at all. We can get everyone into a room and sing Kumbaya and so on, but it’s not realistic to think these kinds of feelings are suddenly going to go away. Instead, this is post is to let Monona residents know that we have a tough situation, and the only thing we can do to make it better is to act. Sitting around waiting for others to do it will only get you less and less.